This long and rambling essay is about how you change the mind of people who don’t believe in facts or replace the truth with alternative facts. Like the members of the Christian Right who are propping up Trump’s illegitimate presidency.
Why on Earth would Christians claim Trump? Given he clearly is at best a back sliding clueless cluck of a Christian.
Okay so he doesn’t go to church and has never read the bible. But hey at least he supports bible literacy programs in schools. Which may be the stupidest idea I have ever heard.
I say that as someone who went through three years of bible study in school as part of an experiment – we were strongly suspected of reefer madness and hippie sympathies – more religion was the proposed treatment. My high school class wasn’t huge but we were almost 80% Christian kids. The rest were Buddhists, animists, and a handful of atheists.
Three years of bible study and 80% of us were atheists. The rest were Buddhists, animists, and one very lonely Sufi. Zero Christians.
Anybody feel that being forced to learn algebra lead to them loving math? Bible study would kill the Christian faith within a generation.
Full disclosure, I love algebra and use it daily. I read the bible and reflect on it daily. I am the only mathematician out of my class and the only person who isn’t Christian In Name Only (XINO). Most aren’t even that but rather full fledged atheists.
I do have a favourite bible passage. Or rather passages. Luke 10: 25-37.
Which is of course the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Hard to believe anyone who believed in Jesus and the Gospels could read Luke 10: 25-37 and then build a wall to keep immigrants out. But Luke in the original Greek offers some evidence the author was asking a legitimate question. When we say love our neighbour what do we mean by neighbour?
I have neighbours who are wonderful people who treat me great. A bunch of whom are Good Samaritans on steroids. They have vigorously supported wave after wave of immigration and hundreds of immigrant families. Despite being right wing nut jobs.
But others, and remember they all treat me great, hate immigrants and immigration. And I have spent much of my adult life trying to help immigrants put down roots and thrive. And they know that and still treat me great.
They know I am a left winger, a radical environmentalist tree hugger, who works with immigrants. But my neighbours still trust me with their animals 24/7 and their farms/ranches when they are away. And no higher compliment can a rancher offer you. People aren’t simple. Ever.
We really need to enrich the tools we use to think about our fellow humans.
Consider the tricky issue of race. My family is, “An cluaran, an ròs, agus an-còmhnaidh na h-eileanan fad air falbh”. That is nearly untranslatable from the Gaelic. Literally it means something like the thistle, the rose and always the faraway islands. But in the island vernacular it means, “here before time began.”
I am a classic Orkney islander, Gaelic and Norse. I am blonde, pale, blue eyed and freckled. Talk about white privilege. Not to mention my family came to North America in the early 1600s.
Which means we are complicit in arguably the worst genocide of all time. One so bad it created a mini-ice age.
Now ironically my DNA tells a remarkably different tale. I know this because I have been doing modelling and number crunching for a group of scientists trying to use DNA to piece together the complicated history of the Athabaskan people. Or as they are now self identifying Dené.
And in the process we have discovered quite a number of useful markers. And I alone among the research team carry some of them. In fact most of them.
This isn’t like Elizabeth Warren. This is some or all of my grandparents or parents lied. I am a Norse-Gaelic-Aboriginal. A Metis we say here in Canada. And very specifically a Dené.
So my white ancestors came to North America bringing pestilence and death and then partnered up with the surviving aboriginals. And I am the result. I am both perpetrator and victim.
I am also a member of not one but two aboriginal communities. I grew up spending large amounts of time with the Tinglit and Haida. They treated me like a tribal member and to the extent I thought about it I self identified with them. So in an ethnocultural sense I am also aboriginal.
I am white. And I am aboriginal. The Metis kids I grew up with (and hey northern Canada so that is many of oldest and dearest friends) think this is hilarious. And with great welcoming hearts they have been sharing their culture with me. Or rather introducing me to mine.
The point is race is very, very complicated and we insist on talking about it in very, very simplistic terms. We think about many profound issues in exceedingly simplistic ways. It is not serving us well.
The relationship between Trump and the Christian Right is a very good case in point.
I think more and more Americans are coming to understand that involvement of the Christian Right in the Trump presidency is always going to be a blot on both American history and the much longer history of the Christian faith. Whether it is a turning point for positive change or the point America and Christianity plunged off the cliff in each other’s fetid embrace is yet to be determined. It is really up to all of us.
I am just here to testify. To give my two cents worth. My story begins at 9:39 on January 28th, 1986.
Consider this then my tribute to Christina McAuliffe, Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnick, Ronald McNair, and Gregory Jarvis. They died that day reaching for the stars, trying to take America and the world into a better brighter future. But what killed them was a bunch of people decided to ignore the facts. Or worse choosing to believe “alternative facts.”
Many Americans have turned believing Alternative facts into a badge of honour in the years since. But the day before the Challenger exploded we still collectively agreed facts mattered. And the engineers and scientists were in total agreement. In the cold the o-rings would fail. And the rocket would explode. A number said it loud and clear, repeatedly. NASA ignored them.
That is now the accepted version of events. Nobody disputes it. What has never been addressed is what impact 6 years of Christian Right rule had had on America’s ability to think? And now we have had what, almost 40 years of Christian Right influence and interference?
But believe it or not that isn’t what my testimony is about. It is about how the same cold front that froze the o-rings and killed the brave crew of Challenger led to me being born again. And how my story of coming to that conversion prepared me to meet the Christian Right in their own churches and share the joy and awe I find in science, technology, engineering, art and math (yes Art). We call it STEAM.
All you need to know for now is that the unusual cold in the US on January 27th, and 28th, 1986 had a negative effect on many people’s travel plans. One of those people had been scheduled to debate a major star of the Christian Right and the leader of the Creationist Movement, Duane Gish in Dinwoodie Lounge at the University of Alberta. Nobody on faculty wanted any part of stepping into the lion’s den.
An hour after the Challenger exploded I got a call from a guy named Dick Peter (who later became Dean of Science at the University of Alberta). Dick wanted to know if with next to no warning and no real preparation time I would meet the incendiary Gish the Fish in open warfare in front of what was likely to be an extremely hostile audience. Of course I said yes. I had seen Gish in action on multiple occasions and new exactly what I was getting into. I was motivated to do it for the crew of Challenger. My personal memorial.
The night of the debate the moderator began by polling the audience. By a show of hands 80+% believed in creation. I was a dead man walking.
Duane would win these debates because first and foremost audiences liked him. He was funny and charming and disarming.
And he cheated. He used what is now known as the Gish Gallop. You simply make misstatement after misstatement as fast as you can so nobody can possibly fact check it all in real time never mind rebut any of it. Gish was the master of alternative facts delivered at auctioneer speeds. It didn’t start with the Trumpites.
He also started every debate by lying about his opponent and trying to get them to say they were atheists. He always stacked each debate audience with fundamentalist Christians. Once he’d labelled you an atheist they were programmed to hate you.
So, when he finally let me speak I introduced myself.
“I was born for the Methodist people, to the Dunkard Clan. My other clans are Church of the Four Square Gospel and Evangelical Presbyterian.”
At this point in my life I was ABD (alł but dissertation). My thesis was on the treatment of chronic back pain without drugs or surgery (long story how I got there). I was spending significant amounts of time in Window Rock with Navajo healers exploring how they approached the problem.
So I introduced myself to a diverse audience in a classic Navajo way.
Duane turned and looked at me and I saw this moment of fear as I said, “and I am a fundamentalist evangelical Christian.” And as I said it I realized it was actually true. I felt this shutter run through me. The next morning I started the search for a church where I could be born again. And I have never wavered in my believe God spoke to me and through me that night. The audience felt the power of my experience.
And then in flow I introduced my companion, Lark. It is an old debate trick. If you are going to lose a debate bring a cute dog. And Lark was wicked cute. That is her great, great grandson in the picture above and he is a dead ringer. Like Lark and all the dogs in between Butch is a highly trained, brave and skilled search and rescue dog.
Recently I wrote a diary called What is a left wing Evangelical Christian? I followed it up with a piece called What kind of Christian was Martin Luther King? Then I did a stub of a diary asking if thinking has gotten too hard? Which would explain the lunacy of the Trump presidency.
In this third and by far the longest and most personal of the diaries I will try to offer both pragmatic advice for dealing with the Christian Right and inspiration that real change may be in the air. All three are linked to that night 33 years ago. But this testimony is enriched beyond belief by the extraordinary feedback I received from my earlier attempts at diaries. A big thank you to everyone who contributed.
The point I set out to make originally is that not all evangelical Christians are the enemy. Some, like me are life long progressives and natural allies of the left. And even in the Christian Right there are people who stand in opposition to Donald Trump. But before I got there the conversation went off madly in all directions.
Had I reached my destination I had intended to move on to a discussion of how to reduce the impact of right wing Evangelical Christians on American politics. That reduction is not just desirable because the Christian Right fueled the rise of Donald Trump. This group, one that has never made up more than 20% of the population and is down to 15% now according to the US Census Bureau, has held serious power in Washington, D.C., and many state legislatures for decades. They have somehow drowned out the voices of reason again and again.
We call them born again and fundamentalist evangelical Christians.
I was raised by them. I am one of them. I thought I’d left all that behind right until I acknowledged my roots on stage. Then I knew it was forever buried deep inside me.
My parents weren’t evangelicals. I am not sure they were even really Christians. They were deeply spiritual and tried very hard to be good and do good works. They served as leaders of the ultra left wing United Church of Canada but almost never attended actual services. They did however make me attend. And had me baptized.
The United Church became the clock of my life. Sunday’s service. Wednesday’s Christian Boys in Training. Thursday’s Christian Girls in Training. I looked upon these sessions as my best opportunity to acquire a girlfriend. I always managed to be passing just as it ended and believe it or not that worked. Saturday’s Social – usually a dance, but games and punch and cakes and on the walk home necking. And then there was choir practice and bible study (much more interesting than what we discussed in school – it was lead by the Reverend of the time but team taught by Catholic Nuns and the local Rabbi). In any case life had rhythm.
Where do the Evangelists come in? I was the last child of a quite large but very spread out family. My eldest siblings are almost two decades older than me. By the time I was born my parents had very active professional and social lives. And little time for parenting. My older brothers were gone to school and the Air Force. My sisters were into Elvis, the Beatles, and boys.
Which is how my grandparents got such a starring role in raising me. Or trying to at any rate. They weren’t any of them young and I was a handful. Each of my Grandparents came from a different fundamentalist Evangelical Christian church.
My paternal Grandfather was a member of the Church of the Four Square Gospel of Aimee Semple-McPherson before becoming part of an extremist Baptist cult that mercifully has ceased to exist. My Dad’s mother was a Dunkard. My maternal Grandfather an Evangelical Presbyterian and my battle axe of a Grandmother belonged to an ultra fundamentalist splinter of the Methodists.
Lest I sound like I am slagging them let me say for the record my grandparents were all what I would call high impact human beings. My Methodist grandmother taught school, served on the boards of numerous charities, helped run a thriving dairy farm, and earned a first class degree in Physics (unheard of for a woman in her day).
My Mom’s dad was a stone mason who with his own hands built much of Calgary’s history. He was a master blacksmith who could build anything from scratch. When he wasn’t running the dairy farm he designed and built amazing stain glass windows. He was a 27th level Free Mason.
My most fundamentalist grandparent was my Dad’s dad. He was a power engineer, turned Mountain guide. Late in his 60s he became a civil engineer but never worked at it. A truly restless spirit he started breeding Cattle and produced World Champion Bulls for several decades. During his life time he started 16 businesses we know of and 75 years later three are still running but he died penniless. Happy but dirt poor.
And finally we come to my Dunkard grandmother. She was born with an incredible gift. At the World’s Fair in St. Louis Teddy Roosevelt declared her Apple pie “the best pie I have ever eaten”. She cooked for the rich and the famous at places like Maligne Lake Lodge in Jasper and the Palliser Hotel in Calgary. Her fans included movie stars like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Maybe the most incredible thing about her was as she travelled the Southern US mastering her craft she collected recipes and each recipe came with stories from the people who created the dish. It is priceless social history. I’ve kept them all these years. I still cook the dishes of course. Deep in Northern Canada.
I was in awe of all of them. They might have been right wing nut job born again fundamentalist Christians but they each had mad skills. I would have followed any of them blindly when I was a child.
I explained this to my audience planning to go on and explain how science saved me. But then life on stage I realized that it wasn’t true. No I had been saved from my fundamentalist grandparents by the Great Goddess Shu. And I blurted that out. Then I had to explain.
Duane tried desperately to get me back on track, to get back to burying me in his alternative facts. But the audience was having none of it. They knew testifying when they heard it. And you don’t interrupt the testimony, ever, for anything.
So I went on. Explaining that my Grandparents agreed on next to nothing. Other than that I should practice their form of uncompromising Christianity. Family legend has it I was baptized in each church.
But like I said they were elderly and I was difficult. Ironically the only affordable, available baby sitter was an ancient Chinese woman (older than my Grandparents as it happens). Anne was considered acceptable because she was a devout Anglican.
There were a remarkable number of things my family didn’t know about Anne. Like she didn’t speak English. Not one word. She just nodded and smiled a lot. And laughed.
And her Cantonese was let’s be kind and say quirky. She taught me her native tongue, Nakhi, and that was what we spoke. By the time I was sent off to spend part of my days with her (age 2) she was living in the back of her grandchildren’s restaurant where she passed her time raising their children, prepping food, and running a huge garden and greenhouse.
Her great grandchildren became my playmates, the restaurant my second home until I went off to university, and the garden and greenhouse where I found peace and wisdom.
You see my fundamentalist grandparents had put me in the care of a llu bu, a female Shaman of the Nakhi people. Anne worshiped Mother Nature who she called Shu. And a bunch of minor Gods she called Shv who were always making mischief. Particularly on anyone who messed with the forests. Except because the Shv were tricksters of the highest order there was frequently collateral damage. Much of it playing out in relationships and communities and the political realm. Her job as a llu bu was to get the Shv out of people’s lives and bring all the people into balance with Shu.
In her late teens Anne entered a Buddhist monastery in Tibet and became a Tibetan Buddhist Monk. On a trip to Shanghai she fell in love, got married and became a Taoist. And rich. Incredibly, opulently rich. Her conversion to the Anglican faith coincided with the Communist Revolution and her personal diaspora to Canada’s frozen north. In which she lost all her material possessions.
Anne for her part thought this odd life arc was a perfectly harmonious circle. “I spent a lot time worrying about stuff that turned out not to matter much,” she used to tell me. Then she would laugh.
Anne believed all these religious things all at once. With great joy and absolute certainty. She was a very happy polytheist who still practiced as a herbalist and Medicine Woman right up to her death at a 109. There were always Shv problems that needed fixing.
Though not a single one of her numerous clients was Nakhi. Anne was the only Nakhi for 5,000 miles in any direction. Nope her clients were all animals. Mostly dogs.
And Anne, Anne was a dog whisper. The gift Anne gave me was she taught me how to talk to the animals. And my grandparents loved it.
You see they did share one thing in common. They could all talk to the animals. And I, the last of the Grandchildren was the only one to have inherited that weird skill. So I went from runt of the litter and general annoyance to adored grandchild.
It was wanting to understand animal whispering that led me to become a scientist. (And you guessed it. The answers turn out to be complex).
And here I paused.
I asked Lark to confirm that she and I could talk. She dutifully barked. I told her she was right I should get back to talking about her.
See Lark was a very famous avalanche rescue dog. One memorable afternoon she dug three people out of an avalanche in Jasper National Park. The deepest was buried in 14 and 1/2 feet of snow.
On stage that night I asked her how that was even possible? Lark spoke. I translated.
“God gave my ancestors a great gift. A nose to see the world through. And millions of years of evolution made me smart enough to know how to use it.”
Then I started into a crash course in canine genetics, evolution, and domestication. With what was known about those amazing noses thrown in. Five minutes with more than 40 facts. State of the art for the time. Mostly superseded by other facts in the years since. But impossible for Gish to rebut.
He actually left the stage before the debate was over. I have no idea why. But I suspect he wasn’t used to being upstaged by a talking dog.
In 2013, shortly after his death, I learned Duane Gish spent the next 27 years referring to me as the spawn of Satan.
I guess that is because by the time Lark and I had finished discussing dog evolution and genetics using the Gish Gallop 90% of the audience was pro evolution. Because would a medal winning hero dog lie to them? Or maybe they were moved by the facts. It is by no means the only time Duane Gish lost a debate. But I have been told it is the only time he abandoned a debate.
But what you may be wondering does this have to do with ending the marriage between Donald Trump and the Christian Right?
President Trump is simultaneously two very different creatures.
- There is Trump the Man. Most Americans grasp that Trump the Man is at best a waste of space and at worst dangerous, malevolent dark matter.
- But there is Trump the Myth. The Mythic Trump is doing Christ’s work making sure America remains a White, Christian State. The Mythic Trump is
- a self made man,
- a brilliant business man,
- a devout Christian,
- a Messianic figure,
- an upholder of the most important part of the constitution (the part that apparently guaranteed a White Christian State).
- He is the reincarnation of King Cyrus of Persia who was supposedly doing God’s bidding without knowing it. And perhaps most frighteningly
- God’s messenger sent to bring Chaos and thus cause the End Times and bring on The Rapture.
Some people believe so strongly in the Mythic Trump they forgive Trump the Man for family separations at the border, a range of criminal acts including running a fraudulent university and a fraudulent charity, selling the US to Russia, grabbing pussy, cozying up to tyrants, and surrounding himself with knaves and dunces. And that is only a partial list.
The question is can anything be done to shatter the myth?
And we all know the facts will never be enough to convince these sort of believers of anything.
I have chosen two articles that should give us hope and that point the way toward separating the man from the myth.
In the first link three sociologists explain their research into what happens when you make voters aware of how much money Donnie got from daddy. Perceptions of Trump’s ability to empathize drop drastically when voters learn what a spoiled rich kid he was and is and will always be. And politicians who aren’t seen as empathetic lose.
In the second a historian reveals the real roots of Trump’s power, Fake History. There is an organized attempt to convince certain Evangelical Christians that the framers of the US Constitution intended the US to be a White Christian state. It is that dubious and frankly fallacious contention that made Trump the President of the United States.
John Fea has made a start on teaching real history to Evangelicals. The article is a cry for help signal boosting his message. We would all be wise to listen and help.
Because the alternative is an unimpeachable, unindictable President.
On Friday January 11th, 2019 the Guardian ran this article on how Trump’s presidency has come to depend on Evangelical Christians.
and Raw Story summed it up thusly.
Let me be clear. Trump wants to weaponize and use Evangelical Christians to extort Republican politicians to ignore his attempted theft of American democracy. Just as he is using the threat of declaring a national emergency to try to over turn the United States Constitution.
Decisive action is clearly needed. The question is what would that action look like?
What gives Evangelicals their grip on Republican politicians is the idea they are a monolithic, single block of voters. Nothing could be further from the truth. But it isn’t just Republicans who believe it. It is Democrats as well.
You need to understand that the terms Evangelical and Fundamentalist are not synonyms. Evangelicals may be Fundamentalists or they may think that Fundamentalists are brain damaged and possibly dangerous. And it is possible to be Fundamentalist and have lost all touch with Evangelical Christianity. It is also possible to be a fundamentalist and an evangelical and still think Donald Trump is Evil and Republicans are in the sway of False Prophets and a False Prophecy.
This link will explain the difference between Fundamentalists and Evangelicals better than I ever could.
John Green resonates for me when he says Fundamentalists are stricter than other Evangelical Christians.
I am going to pause here and once again explain my own religious beliefs. I am an evangelical Christian. To be precise I am a Hussite. Which means I am a Fundamentalist. Our religious practice is both strict and severe thus meeting John Green’s definition for fundamentalist. I am born again. If you can be born again when you have been baptized six times.
I find it hard to credit when I read the lunacy Jerry Falwell Junior spouts off
but he describes himself using almost the exact same language I use. It is important to realize we are living nearly completely different faiths. Well I think one of us needs to change how we describe ourselves.
Why should you care about these doctrinaire differences? Or waste a moment of your life thinking about the lunacy of Jerry Falwell Junior?
There is this significant block of voters just waiting for Democrats to extend an Olive branch so they can rejoin the party. You see until 1980 evangelicals while leaning right valued social justice issues enough some Democratic politicians could reach them. Then in a place called Phildelphia, Mississippi Ronald Reagan became the first politician to play the hate card. And hate took over the Christian Right.
In has taken decades for dissenting voices to emerge in the Christian Right and begin pushing back. I am going to introduce you to just a few. There are many, many more. A modern reformation is happening in real time in America.
Let’s start with Alan Cross and his response to Falwell’s statements.
And the unbelievably brave Karen Swallow Prior:
Then there are the black Evangelical Christians. the only part of the movement where the numbers are rising. And the black evangelical movement is different, very different from the white approach. It remains truer to the original vision of early 20th Century evangelism.
That doesn’t mean they are all actively trying to change things. But again there are brave Evangelicals of Colour who are:
And finally there is the resurgent religious left.
We need to boost these dissenting voices. And we need to do it today.
And we need to stop being bigoted towards the religious right. Don’t think the left depicts the Christian Right as inferior brain dead zombies? Read these links.
And believe me I could go on.
This approach guarantees failure.
And there are other much better options. To read about professional meteorologists using story telling to convert climate change deniers check out the link below. They use narrative to deliver facts. Just like I tried to do that night.
In summary when confronting the Christian Right lead with your story and let the facts ride along.
Let’s rob Trump of this key element of his base.
And believe me it can be done. You see I got my first few speaking gigs that night I debated Duane Gish. Now I take my testimony to congregations and Sunday Schools in Evangelical Christian churches all over western Canada and occasionally in the US. In the 3 decades since I have spoken repeatedly about evolution, Global warming, and yes abortion hundreds of times.
Because you see I too am one those dissenting voices. And people will listen and do listen. And the very core of what I tell them is this:
1. STEAM is great fun.
2. STEAM is useful.
3. STEAM is a gift from God.
4. And God really hates it when we ignore His Gifts. HATES IT!
More and more churches are asking me to speak. In the two years since Trump was elected I haven’t been able to keep up with the demand. You see these churches fear for their youth.
They know that STEAM is the future, the Rapture isn’t happening any time soon, and the Old Testament won’t help their children have a materially better life than they had. They also know young adults are fleeing their faith. Because it doesn’t offer a better future.
They just don’t know what to do about any of that. We need to offer them better options than a retreat into xenophobia, racism, misogyny and hate.
And in closing I want you to know that when the modern reformation catches fire in these communities of frightened parents (and it will) a renewing conflagration is going to sweep across American politics and religion and forever change American history.
Today I leave you with the task of helping we, the dissenters, to ignite that fire.
In the first link three sociologists explain their research into what happens when you make voters aware of how much money Donnie got from daddy. Perceptions of Trump’s ability to empathize drop drastically when voters learn what a spoiled rich kid he was and is and will always be. And politicians who aren’t seen as empathetic lose.
Later, it comes out that the beloved nobleman did not in fact kill his good-for-nothing brother. The good-for-nothing brother killed the beloved nobleman (and stole his identity). Now the townspeople want to see him lynched or burned alive, and it is only the priest who – consistently – offers a measured forgiveness conditional on penance and self-reflection.
The priest tells them:
It seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. You forgive a conventional duel just as you forgive a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.
.. He further notes that this is why the townspeople can self-righteously consider themselves more compassionate and forgiving than he is. Actual forgiveness, the kind the priest needs to cultivate to forgive evildoers, is really really hard. The fake forgiveness the townspeople use to forgive the people they like is really easy, so they get to boast not only of their forgiving nature, but of how much nicer they are than those mean old priests who find forgiveness difficult and want penance along with it.
.. There are a lot of people who say “I forgive you” when they mean “No harm done”, and a lot of people who say “That was unforgiveable” when they mean “That was genuinely really bad”.
.. But since forgiveness is generally considered a virtue, and one that many want credit for having, I think it’s fair to say you only earn the right to call yourself ‘forgiving’ if you forgive things that genuinely hurt you.
.. To borrow Chesterton’s example, if you think divorce is a-ok, then you don’t get to “forgive” people their divorces, you merely ignore them.
.. “Master, I have been tolerant of innumerable gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, transgender people, and Jews. How many Virtue Points have I earned for my meritorious deeds?”
Bodhidharma answers: “None at all”.
The Emperor, somewhat put out, demands to know why.
Bodhidharma asks: “Well, what do you think of gay people?”
The Emperor answers: “What do you think I am, some kind of homophobic bigot? Of course I have nothing against gay people!”
And Bodhidharma answers: “Thus do you gain no merit by tolerating them!”
.. If I had to define “tolerance” it would be something like “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup”.
.. We have a lot of people – like the Emperor – boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine, loving the outgroup, writing long paeans to how great the outgroup is, staying up at night fretting that somebody else might not like the outgroup enough.
This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point. No one did any genetic engineering. No one passed out weird glowing pills in the public schools. And yet suddenly we get an entire group of people who conspicuously promote and defend their outgroups, the outer the better.
.. Any theory of outgroupishness that naively assumes the Nazis’ natural outgroup is Japanese or Chinese people will be totally inadequate.
.. So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences.
.. If you want to know who someone in former Yugoslavia hates, don’t look at the Indonesians or the Zulus or the Tibetans or anyone else distant and exotic. Find the Yugoslavian ethnicity that lives closely intermingled with them and is most conspicuously similar to them, and chances are you’ll find the one who they have eight hundred years of seething hatred toward.
.. eight hundred years of the British committing genocide against the Irish and considering them literally subhuman turned into smiles and songs about shamrocks once the Irish started looking like useful cannon fodder for a larger fight.
.. outgroups may be the people who look exactly like you, and scary foreigner types can become the in-group on a moment’s notice when it seems convenient.
.. 46% of Americans are creationists. Not just in the sense of believing God helped guide evolution. I mean they think evolution is a vile atheist lie and God created humans exactly as they exist right now. That’s half the country.
.. And I don’t have a single one of those people in my social circle.
.. About forty percent of Americans want to ban gay marriage. I think if I really stretch it, maybe ten of my top hundred fifty friends might fall into this group. This is less astronomically unlikely; the odds are a mere one to one hundred quintillion against.
.. there was a thread on Reddit asking – Redditors Against Gay Marriage, What Is Your Best Supporting Argument? A Reddit user who didn’t understand how anybody could be against gay marriage honestly wanted to know how other people who were against it justified their position. He figured he might as well ask one of the largest sites on the Internet, with an estimated user base in the tens of millions.
It soon became clear that nobody there was actually against gay marriage.
.. In a thread with 10,401 comments, a thread specifically asking for people against gay marriage, I was eventually able to find two people who came out and opposed it, way near the bottom. Their posts started with “I know I’m going to be downvoted to hell for this…”
.. Only one percent of LWers were normal everyday God-‘n-guns-but-not-George-III conservatives of the type that seem to make up about half of the United States.
.. similar to other elite universities, had a faculty and a student body that skewed about 90-10 liberal to conservative – and we can bet that, like LW, even those few token conservatives are Mitt Romney types rather than God-n’-guns types. I get my news from vox.com, an Official Liberal Approved Site. Even when I go out to eat, it turns out my favorite restaurant, California Pizza Kitchen, is the most liberal restaurant in the United States.
.. I have created an outrageously strong bubble, a 10^45 bubble. Conservatives are all around me, yet I am about as likely to have a serious encounter with one as I am a Tibetan lama.
(Less likely, actually. One time a Tibetan lama came to my college and gave a really nice presentation, but if a conservative tried that, people would protest and it would be canceled.)
.. One day I realized that entirely by accident I was fulfilling all the Jewish stereotypes.
I’m nerdy, over-educated, good with words, good with money, weird sense of humor, don’t get outside much, I like deli sandwiches. And I’m a psychiatrist, which is about the most stereotypically Jewish profession short of maybe stand-up comedian or rabbi.
I’m not very religious. And I don’t go to synagogue. But that’s stereotypically Jewish too!
.. The defining factors of Judaism – Torah-reading, synagogue-following, mother-having – are the tip of a giant iceberg. Jews sometimes identify as a “tribe”, and even if you don’t attend synagogue, you’re still a member of that tribe and people can still (in a statistical way) infer things about you by knowing your Jewish identity – like how likely they are to be psychiatrists.
.. The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.
.. The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.
.. (There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)
.. And I genuinely believed that day that I had found some unexpected good in people – that everyone I knew was so humane and compassionate that they were unable to rejoice even in the death of someone who hated them and everything they stood for.
.. Then a few years later, Margaret Thatcher died. And on my Facebook wall – made of these same “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people – the most common response was to quote some portion of the song “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead”.
.. You can talk all you want about Islamophobia, but my friend’s “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful people” – her name for the Blue Tribe – can’t get together enough energy to really hate Osama, let alone Muslims in general. We understand that what he did was bad, but it didn’t anger us personally. When he died, we were able to very rationally apply our better nature and our Far Mode beliefs about how it’s never right to be happy about anyone else’s death.
On the other hand, that same group absolutely loathed Thatcher. Most of us (though not all) can agree, if the question is posed explicitly, that Osama was a worse person than Thatcher. But in terms of actual gut feeling? Osama provokes a snap judgment of “flawed human being”, Thatcher a snap judgment of “scum”.
.. I started this essay by pointing out that, despite what geographical and cultural distance would suggest, the Nazis’ outgroup was not the vastly different Japanese, but the almost-identical German Jews.
And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.
.. One of the ways we know that racism is a giant all-encompassing social factor is the Implicit Association Test. Psychologists ask subjects to quickly identify whether words or photos are members of certain gerrymandered categories, like “either a white person’s face or a positive emotion” or “either a black person’s face and a negative emotion”.
.. If subjects have more trouble (as measured in latency time) connecting white people to negative things than they do white people to positive things, then they probably have subconscious positive associations with white people.
.. what the test famously found was that even white people who claimed to have no racist attitudes at all usually had positive associations with white people and negative associations with black people on the test.
.. there have been several studies where people sent out a bunch of identical resumes except sometimes with a black person’s photo and other times with a white person’s photo, and it was noticed that employers were much more likely to invite the fictional white candidates for interviews.
.. Once again, discrimination on the basis of party was much stronger than discrimination on the basis of race.
.. People have been studying “belief congruence theory” – the idea that differences in beliefs are more important than demographic factors in forming in-groups and outgroups – for decades.
.. people were more likely to accept friendships across racial lines than across beliefs
.. One of the best-known examples of racism is the “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” scenario where parents are scandalized about their child marrying someone of a different race. Pew has done some good work on this and found that only 23% of conservatives and 1% (!) of liberals admit they would be upset in this situation. But Pew also asked how parents would feel about their child marrying someone of a different political party. Now 30% of conservatives and 23% of liberals would get upset.
.. I’m not saying people of either party have it “worse” than black people, or that partyism is more of a problem than racism, or any of a number of stupid things along those lines which I am sure I will nevertheless be accused of believing. Racism is worse than partyism because the two parties are at least kind of balanced in numbers and in resources, whereas the brunt of an entire country’s racism falls on a few underprivileged people.
.. Every election cycle like clockwork, conservatives accuse liberals of not being sufficiently pro-America. And every election cycle like clockwork, liberals give extremely unconvincing denials of this.
.. My hunch – both the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe, for whatever reason, identify “America” with the Red Tribe. Ask people for typically “American” things, and you end up with a very Red list of characteristics – guns, religion, barbecues, American football, NASCAR, cowboys, SUVs, unrestrained capitalism.
.. That means the Red Tribe feels intensely patriotic about “their” country, and the Blue Tribe feels like they’re living in fortified enclaves deep in hostile territory.
.. Here is a popular piece published on a major media site called America: A Big, Fat, Stupid Nation. Another: America: A Bunch Of Spoiled, Whiny Brats. Americans are ignorant, scientifically illiterate religious fanatics whose “patriotism” is actually just narcissism. You Will Be Shocked At How Ignorant Americans Are, and we should Blame The Childish, Ignorant American People.
Needless to say, every single one of these articles was written by an American and read almost entirely by Americans. Those Americans very likely enjoyed the articles very much and did not feel the least bit insulted.
.. But I think the situation with “white” is much the same as the situation with “American” – it can either mean what it says, or be a code word for the Red Tribe.
.. Imagine hearing that a liberal talk show host and comedian was so enraged by the actions of ISIS that he’d recorded and posted a video in which he shouts at them for ten minutes, cursing the “fanatical terrorists” and calling them “utter savages” with “savage values”.
If I heard that, I’d be kind of surprised. It doesn’t fit my model of what liberal talk show hosts do.
.. That fits my model perfectly. You wouldn’t celebrate Osama’s death, only Thatcher’s. And you wouldn’t call ISIS savages, only Fox News. Fox is the outgroup, ISIS is just some random people off in a desert. You hate the outgroup, you don’t hate random desert people.
.. Not only does Brand not feel much like hating ISIS, he has a strong incentive not to. That incentive is: the Red Tribe is known to hate ISIS loudly and conspicuously. Hating ISIS would signal Red Tribe membership, would be the equivalent of going into Crips territory with a big Bloods gang sign tattooed on your shoulder.
.. What would Russell Brand answer, if we asked him to justify his decision to be much angrier at Fox than ISIS?
He might say something like “Obviously Fox News is not literally worse than ISIS. But here I am, talking to my audience, who are mostly white British people and Americans. These people already know that ISIS is bad; they don’t need to be told that any further. In fact, at this point being angry about how bad ISIS is, is less likely to genuinely change someone’s mind about ISIS, and more likely to promote Islamophobia. The sort of people in my audience are at zero risk of becoming ISIS supporters, but at a very real risk of Islamophobia. So ranting against ISIS would be counterproductive and dangerous.
.. So here’s somewhere I have a genuine chance to reach people at risk and change minds. Therefore, I think my decision to rant against Fox News, and maybe hyperbolically say they were ‘worse than ISIS’ is justified under the circumstances.”
.. But my sympathy with Brand ends when he acts like his audience is likely to be fans of Fox News.
.. In a world where a negligible number of Redditors oppose gay marriage and 1% of Less Wrongers identify conservative and I know 0/150 creationists, how many of the people who visit the YouTube channel of a well-known liberal activist with a Che-inspired banner, a channel whose episode names are things like “War: What Is It Good For?” and “Sarah Silverman Talks Feminism” – how many of them do you think are big Fox News fans?
.. If he attacked ISIS, his viewers would just be a little confused and uncomfortable. Whereas every moment he’s attacking Fox his viewers are like “HA HA! YEAH! GET ‘EM! SHOW THOSE IGNORANT BIGOTS IN THE OUTGROUP WHO’S BOSS!”
.. Brand acts as if there are just these countries called “Britain” and “America” who are receiving his material. Wrong. There are two parallel universes, and he’s only broadcasting to one of them.
.. Think of Brendan Eich as a member of a tiny religious minority surrounded by people who hate that minority. Suddenly firing him doesn’t seem very noble.
.. If you mix together Podunk, Texas and Mosul, Iraq, you can prove that Muslims are scary and very powerful people who are executing Christians all the time – and so we have a great excuse for kicking the one remaining Muslim family, random people who never hurt anyone, out of town.
.. When a friend of mine heard Eich got fired, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can tolerate anything except intolerance,” she said.
“Intolerance” is starting to look like another one of those words like “white” and “American”.
“I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?
.. The outgroup of the Red Tribe is occasionally blacks and gays and Muslims, more often the Blue Tribe.
.. The Blue Tribe has performed some kind of very impressive act of alchemy, and transmuted all of its outgroup hatred to the Red Tribe.
.. Even the Nazis, not known for their ethnic tolerance, were able to get all buddy-buddy with the Japanese when they had a common cause.
.. Research suggests Blue Tribe / Red Tribe prejudice to be much stronger than better-known types of prejudice like racism. Once the Blue Tribe was able to enlist the blacks and gays and Muslims in their ranks, they became allies of convenience who deserve to be rehabilitated with mildly condescending paeans to their virtue. “There never was a coward where the shamrock grows.”
.. Spending your entire life insulting the other tribe and talking about how terrible they are makes you look, well, tribalistic. It is definitely not high class. So when members of the Blue Tribe decide to dedicate their entire life to yelling about how terrible the Red Tribe is, they make sure that instead of saying “the Red Tribe”, they say “America”, or “white people”, or “straight white men”. That way it’s humble self-criticism. They are so interested in justice that they are willing to critique their own beloved side, much as it pains them to do so.
.. every Blue Tribe institution is permanently licensed to take whatever emergency measures are necessary against the Red Tribe, however disturbing they might otherwise seem.
.. I had fun writing this article. People do not have fun writing articles savagely criticizing their in-group. People can criticize their in-group, it’s not humanly impossible, but it takes nerves of steel, it makes your blood boil, you should sweat blood. It shouldn’t be fun.
.. I imagine might I feel like some liberal US Muslim leader, when he goes on the O’Reilly Show, and O’Reilly ambushes him and demands to know why he and other American Muslims haven’t condemned beheadings by ISIS more, demands that he criticize them right there on live TV. And you can see the wheels in the Muslim leader’s head turning, thinking something like “Okay, obviously beheadings are terrible and I hate them as much as anyone. But you don’t care even the slightest bit about the victims of beheadings. You’re just looking for a way to score points against me so you can embarass all Muslims. And I would rather personally behead every single person in the world than give a smug bigot like you a single microgram more stupid self-satisfaction than you’ve already got.”
.. But if I want Self-Criticism Virtue Points, criticizing the Grey Tribe is the only honest way to get them. And if I want Tolerance Points, my own personal cross to bear right now is tolerating the Blue Tribe.
.. And when they are good people, they are powerful and necessary crusaders against the evils of the world.
This gets to a point I tried to make last night on Special Report (scroll to around 9:05 for the video). My friend Mollie Hemingway is absolutely right when she says there are double standards at work here. The Obama administration got away with things — inappropriately sharing intelligence, influencing investigations, attacking the media — without a fraction of the gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth we’ve seen from the mainstream media, and without inviting a special counsel.
But the essential reason we got a special counsel and a media feeding frenzy is that Trump seems determined to do everything he can to invite chaos and hysteria to his administration.
The idea that the media or some shadowy cabal of “Never Trumpers” forced the president to fire James Comey in a comically incompetent manner is ludicrous. No one was holding Ivanka Trump hostage in a Motel 6 when Donald Trump confessed to Lester Holt that his administration’s explanation for why Comey was fired was a lie or forced Trump to admit that he fired Comey for his handling of the Russia investigation.
If Trump could simply hold a tune — about jobs, tax reform, etc. — for a few months, his poll numbers would creep up, some good policy might get enacted, and, crucially for Trump, he would earn some political capital that might take the bite out of whatever Mueller finds, if he finds anything at all. Alternatively, keeping his fan base loyal but alienating everyone else is a recipe for staying in the mid 30s for the rest of his term and taking down the GOP majority in the House.
.. In Western mathematics, our ways of knowing include formalized reasoning or proof, decontextualization, and algorithmic thinking, leaving little room for those having non-Western mathematical skills and thinking processes.
.. Mathematics tells us that individual is intellectually lacking. Mathematics formulae also differentiate between the classification of a war or a genocide and have been used to trick indigenous peoples out of land and property.
.. It was Rousseau who first, or at least most famously, leveled the indictment against the tyranny of science in his First Discourse.
.. All of this prattle about “algorithmic thinking” is just Romanticism with a fresh coat of paint.
..The model we came up with for distinguishing between war and genocide involves this mysterious craft called “counting.” But it also involves other things such as motives, means, and other aspects of what serious people call historical context. These criteria do not come from math, they come from politics, morality, and reason. All math does is count the dead. It takes human intelligence to place the dead in context. The Spanish Flu killed millions. It wasn’t genocide.
.. Blaming math for what people do with it should disqualify you from teaching math.
It’s also immoral, self-indulgent, and dangerous nonsense. We use math to make vaccines and model how to get them to indigenous peoples. We use math to feed the hungry. Teaching children that Western math is pernicious is the very essence of perniciousness. It is also incandescently stupid. Do Chinese computers use Confucian math?
.. How much head-popping hysteria have we had to put up with about the evils of teaching “creationism”?